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Manic Organic Salad

The Saturday before last I had the great pleasure of touring Stratford’s culinary treasures with a group food-blogging friends.  I’ll put up a post summarising what we saw, did, and most importantly ate but first I want to write a bit about the application; demonstrate how I brought back ideas and product and used them with delicious results.

Our second stop was the Soiled Reputation organic farm run by Antony John (of the Manic Organic show on the Food Network) and his family. Half of their eighty acres are certified organic and it became clear as he took us on a tour of the farm’s fields that Antony really believes in what he’s doing.  A great trick that I picked up from Antony is the practice of picking greens directly into a bucket filled with water.  A lot of the dirt and grit will sink to the bottom of the water and the greens will remain vibrant for a lot longer.

Floating row cover is one of the most important tools of the organic farming trade

I’m just as into the philosophy of organic crops as the next guy but I was particularly interested in his lessons on weed identification.  I’m coming to agree with Antony’s father-in-law’s assessment that “a weed is just a plant that grows where you didn’t want it.”  Dandelions, the so-called bane of urban front lawns, are delicious and so to apparently is the most recognisable and prevalent weed in our vegetable garden: lamb’s quarters (chenopodium album).  It really stands out with the powdery white appearance of the topmost centre leaves, the white or occasionally purple hue of the underside of these leaves and the goosefoot- (hence the Latin name) shape of the more mature leaves.

Lamb's quarters (photo: wikipedia)

Pigs love lamb’s quarters (it’s also known as pigweed) and European settlers often ate it as food so it’s generally safe.  I wonder a bit about the specific safety of introducing traditional, though now abandoned food, to our diets when we consider that both nineteenth-century homesteaders and our porcine friends aren’t on a daily regimen of baby aspirin and Lipitor.  I suppose if you’re concerned about any interactions you should probably consult your doctor though I imagine a large percentage will take the easy route and tell you not to eat “weeds”.

These greens do contain the same oxalic acid found in spinach and rhubarb leaves (the only source where a lethal dosage is even imaginable–eleven pounds of the leaves) and oxalic acid can cause problems for some people.  It combines with calcium, magnesium and other trace minerals we eat to form salts that crystallize in the body.  The average person will have no trouble expelling these crystals and won’t feel the calcium hit but those with gout, kidney disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis should be more careful.  I think I’d also boil or steam the mature leaves and only use very small ones for salads.

Sources seem confused on the net calcium benefit of eating lamb’s quarters.  On one hand sites like (and who would know more about the subject than a hippie whose last name is “Weed”) declare that it’s a great source of calcium–three times more than spinach and nearly four times that of swiss chard–but also note that the oxalic acid can interfere with calcium uptake.  The best way to cover all eventualities is to add cheese to your salad and luckily I had some of Montforte’s (our first stop on our Stratford tour) ash-covered goat cheese on hand.

Lamb's quarters, garlic chives, Montforte cheese and a Malivoire dressing

In the salad lamb’s quarters did taste mildly of spinach but I also feel like they have some of the dark woodsy flavour of sage.  I balanced this by adding some garlic chives from our  neighbour’s garden for their sharper allium notes.  The homemade dressing was a simple combination of Malivoire (a friend and collaborator of the Soiled Reputation Farm) Wine Syrup, canola oil, a bit of grainy mustard, and honey.  The flavours were excellent but I’m also pleased with the visual contrast that the black and white Montforte cheese brings to the salad.

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  1. [...] my vegetable garden at the cottage I have even been lucky with weeds.  I learned to identify the edible lambs’ quarters and the runner up for most prevalent “weed” is an [...]

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